As a youth in the Dominican Republic, Ubaldo Jimenez recalled reading in school history books about pitcher Juan Marichal, the former San Francisco Giants great who was the first Dominican player to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Now Jimenez’s 2010 start for the Rockies has his name being mentioned alongside of that of Marichal, as well as other all-time greats.
When Jimenez entered AT&T Park on Monday — he had to walk past a bronze statue of Marichal en route to the visiting team player entrance — Marichal owned one of three ERAs in history lower than his 0.88 through 10 starts. Marichal had a 0.59 in 1966, Hoyt Wilhelm posted a 0.83 in 1959 and Eddie Cicotte had a 0.84 in 1919.
All Jimenez did Monday was shut out the Giants, 4-0, and drop his ERA to 0.78.
Jimenez smiles humbly when reminded that, at least for two months, he has written his name in history alongside those of some of the greatest pitchers in history.
“I’m just proud for what I’ve been able to accomplish this year,” Jimenez said. “It’s always big to be mentioned with a guy like Juan Marichal. He’s the only Dominican in the Hall of Fame. I’m just humble for the opportunity, for the chance.”
Jimenez said he was pitching for the Rockies in Denver the 2007 World Series when he met Marichal and they’ve talked “a couple of times.”
Jimenez said he never copied the towering leg kick, which is depicted with the statue and is shown in thousands of pictures. He never thought he’d have anything in common with Marichal. He thought he’d never get any closer to Marichal than the textbook.
“I was in high school,” Jimenez said. “I didn’t even think I was going to sign with any team. I was just playing baseball for love. That was when I was around 15, so I only thought about playing the game for love, for passion.”
Now he can’t help but play for history. And his teammates can’t help but be aware.
Rockies infielders Clint Barmes and Troy Tulowitzki made strong defensive plays in the seventh. Center fielder Carlos Gonzalez helped preserve the shutout by crashing into the wall to grab Bengie Molina’s leadoff drive in the eighth.
With each inning on the MLB.com Gameday application, Jimenez’s ERA is updated after each batter. Gonzalez said players don’t really need to see the stats. They’re quite aware.
“I wanted him to stay and finish the game,” Gonzalez said. “Of course we all know what he’s doing. We want to make sure he gets everything from us. We want to be able to help him.”
An intriguing possibility for the Rockies presented itself when the Astros asked unconditional release waivers on second baseman Kazuo Matsui after their game with the Rockies on Wednesday night. Matsui, of course, was one of the key cogs in the Rockies’ run to the 2007 World Series. Matsui, 34, signed with the Astros after that season. He hit .293 with 20 stolen bases in 96 games for the Astros in 2008 but dropped to .250 with 19 steals in 132 games in 2009.
Any club has the right to claim Matsui by Monday. The Rockies aren’t inclined to do so and it’s not clear if anyone wants to pick him up an clear a roster spot for him. However, if he clears waivers, it’s fair to say the Rockies have reason to be intrigued.
Matsui was a superstar in Japan. After much fanfare, he signed with the Mets for the 2004 season but didn’t blossom in the Majors until joining the Rockies in a 2006 trade. Matsui hit .300 with six home runs, 56 RBIs and 40 steals in 132 total games with the Rockies. His high point with the Rockies was a grand slam in the 10-5 victory in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Phillies.
Also, Matsui was well-liked by teammates and management.
What role would he have with the Rockies today? Just guessing here, but he certainly could add depth. He would more likely have to go to Triple-A Colorado Springs for regular playing time, but could be a reasonable alternative if Rockies starting second baseman Clint Barmes continues to struggle offensively and defensively. The drawback about Matsui, however, would be that it would be hard to ask him to play shortstop on days that Troy Tulowitzki rests. Barmes can do that. Also, Matsui’s decline the last two years left veteran baseball observers questioning how much he has left, especially after years of back issues.
Still, it would be worth it for the Rockies to at least consider approaching Matsui to increase depth.
I talked with Rockies radio announcer Jack Corrigan about how he handled the tense moments leading up to Ubaldo Jimenez’s no-hitter on Saturday night. He has some experience. He was calling the Indians’ games on television when the Yankees’ Jim Abbott threw his no-no several years back.
The baseball superstition/tradition is when a no-hitter is nearing, don’t eve use those words. Radio is a much greater challenge than television. With graphics all over the screen, shots of the scoreboard and the ability to see anticipation and tension on players’ faces, it’s not as if anyone can miss what’s happening.
So how did Corrigan, working with Jerry Schemmel, handle it?
“I would say, The Braves have had six baserunners in this game, but they’ve all reached on walks. I’m old-school, but I think you can read between the lines what I’m telling you.
“We debated. Early on, Jerry, through about four or five innings, was saying that the Braves don’t have a hit. But he said, ‘You know, I think I’m going to stop.'”
Of Abbott’s, Corrigan said: “It was TV. You could see it on the screen and it was the other side, so we didn’t mind talking about it.”
Let me ask this: When watching or listening a game like that one, do you observe the superstition?
— Saturday’s no-hitter by Ubaldo Jimenez against the Braves was the obvious high point, but Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Braves is a better illustration of where the Rockies stand. They didn’t do enough to win. Sometimes when this happens, they win, anyhow. Sunday, they didn’t.
Five hits from an offense that has been sporadic and 11 walks from pitching that has generally performed well were a recipe for disaster. Yet, the Rockies didn’t give the game away until closer Franklin Morales couldn’t throw strikes consistently in the ninth inning.
Sometimes things go wrong and they win. Sunday, many things went wrong and they almost won. Manager Jim Tracy has been noting all weekend that he ability to stay in or pull out games while not necessarily playing well is encouraging, since it means the club is capable of catching fire.
— The power and situational hitting have come and gone. The team hasn’t been consistently effective on the bases. Errors defensively have been a concern. Which area will begin to perform better first?
I believe the defense has become better. And defense is the one area that can turn hot and not cool. The Rockies made all the plays necessary behind Jimenez during the no-hitter, and performed well Sunday. Not making mistakes makes a team solid, and the Rockies are headed in that direction. The difference between solid and spectacular is taking advantage of chances the be spectacular, the way Dexter Fowler made plays behind Jimenez and the way Carlos Gonzalez did Sunday in throwing out Melky Cabrera at the plate from right field.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has made some highlight reel plays, but in other cases he’s almost made them. That should change. I also believe third baseman Ian Stewart, who has had some questionable throws, needs one or two eye-popping plays to settle him and make him more consistently.
— It may be too soon but I don’t think I’m out of line for wondering … How would the lineup perform with Stewart, a power threat, in the No. 3 position, and first Todd Helton in the No. 7 hole?
— I like the way right fielder Brad Hawpe has swung the bat. I also like the way the team is monitoring his playing time. For me, it comes to this unscientific explanation: Hawpe is a big, strong fellow whose body type may be more suited for first base than the outfield. His recent quadriceps injury occurred after a swing, but the place to watch him is in the outfield, especially when he has a lot of activity. Nagging aches are unavoidable, but keep them under control and he’ll produce from April to September. This is an underrated star.
— Although Morales has had a rough patch, I like he way the bullpen has performed. It it can maintain some consistency, imagine how much stronger it should be when right-handers Huston Street and Taylor Buchholz return.
— The rotation has been solid. Three keys could take it beyond that. 1. Jason Hammel must find some consistency. It’s early, so it’s not time to panic. 2. Greg Smith has shown a capacity to make the pitch he needs to keep situations from becoming messy, but he’ll be better if he can throw well-located strikes early in counts. 3. Aaron Cook hasn’t found his sinker. I was left intrigued by his last outing, when he relied on breaking balls and gave the team a chance to win against the Mets. Will he reach a stage where he’ll dominate with the sinker for a number of outings in a row, or will a good percentage of his outings be ones where he has to be creative?
Hey, folks, these are more Monday morning thoughts, not super observations. Where do you think the Rockies are, and how can they be better?
Rockies second baseman Clint Barmes doesn’t have much trouble identifying the high point of his career — so far. On April 4, 2005,
Barmes launched a two-run homer with two out in the bottom fo the ninth off then-Padres closer Trevor Hoffman for a 12-10 Rockies victory at Coors Field.
Hoffman happens to be with the Brewers and could theoretically be facing Barmes with the game on the line.
If it happens, at least Barmes knows he’s done it before.
“That would be tough to beat for the best moment of my career. I’m hoping this year I’ll get that opportunity. Maybe it’ll be a big hit in the playoffs or whatever. At this point, that’s going to be a tough moment for me to beat.
“People still remind me of it, but not as often. I used to have a lot of fans say, ‘Hey, I was at the ’05 Opening Day.’ I’d hear that a lot for the first couple of years after it happened. It’s faded a little bit. I’ll have one every once in awhile that will bring it up. That’s pretty special for me to have as a memory.
“I know I don’t have the ball. I’m pretty sure I have the bat from that moment. But, more than anything, I have the video footage. I’ve got a bunch of different angles from all that happened. And I have the memories of rounding third, coming in and seeing everybody crowded around the plate. That’s definitely a special moment I’ll never forget.
“The last thing crossing my mind was I was going to hit a home run off Trevor Hoffman to win a game. I’d never done that in my career, at any point, as far as a walk-off goes. I was swinging the bat well that day. It was Opening Day. I’d already had three hits. I felt comfortable at the plate. The first pitch I saw off Hoffman, he tried to get ahead with a fastball. It was a good pitch to hit. I took a swing at it.
“I can still go back and remember thinking off the bat I knew it was a home run, and I went, ‘I cannot believe that I just did that.’ Rounding first, it was very, very surreal.”
Rockies manager Jim Tracy faced an interesting call: Do the Rockies open a season against a Brewers club that has slugger Prince Fielder and a full group of other guys who swing from the left with one less left-handed reliever than normal?
Tracy answered that question Sunday. Even with the need for one more lefty, Tracy decided it wasn’t worth risking Joe Beimel’s health.
Beimel signed a Minor League deal with the club March 23 and pitched all of three innings in Spring Training. Beimel felt he was ready. He worked out at a high school near his home in California. When he arrived, he showed more bite on his slider than at any point last year, and didn’t give up a run or a hit in his three games.
But Tracy couldn’t get past the fact it was three games.
So Beimel will go to Tucson, Ariz., and possibly begin the season in the Minors. It’s the Spring Training he didn’t have. Right-handed prospect Esmil Rogers will handle the long relief role, and the bullpen will have to make due with only setup man Randy Flores and closer Franklin Morales throwing form the left.
Tracy said Beimel won’t have thrown enough to be activated when the Rockies open the home schedule Friday against the Padres at Coors. Beimel would be a nice guy to have in these early series. Fielder is 1-for-8 career and Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez is 2-for-21 against Beimel.
But when it comes down to the manager weighing his health concerns against two early series, the decision is an easy one. We’re talking about a Rockies team that has gone to the playoffs two of the last three seasons by making stunning late-season runs.
Teams don’t make those when key components of the roster are needlessly pushed into potentially dangerous situations in April. The Rockies would like to perform better in the begining of the year, but not at that potential cost.
Plus, the roster has the flexibility to send Rogers down to Triple-A Colorado Springs once Beimel is ready. There’s no need to potentially lose a player the club needs when the roster move becomes necessary.
So this puts it all in perspective. It’s more important to not risk losing players, either to injury or off waivers, than it is to have a perfect Opening Day roster.
The Rockies will place starter Jeff Francis on the disabled list due to
left shoulder stiffness after the southpaw could not play catch Friday
following an outing in a Cactus League game on Thursday.
Greg Smith, acquired prior to the 2009 season in the deal that sent Matt Holliday to the Oakland Athletics, will take Francis’ spot in the rotation and start the second game of the regular season on Tuesday in Milwaukee.
Rockies closer Huston Street hopes slowing down now will speed up his recovery from right shoulder tightness.
Street has twice had his throwing program shut down because of continued inflammation and tightness. But Street said Thursday that he believes the plan of action that head athletic trainer Keith Dugger has given him will have him throwing next week without future delays in his return.
Street said the inflammation has cause muscles to shut down and weaken. The result is he has felt better at times, but after throwing the tightness has returned.
“We fear if I ramp up the throwing, I’ll keep getting inflamed and it’ll be a long, circular process, so Dugger has me on a program to build it up,” Street said.
Street is on a program of exercise using cuff weights and manual exercises from muscles behind the shoulder. Once he has a solid base, he can add intensity at a high range, and return to throwing.
Street joined the Rockies in a trade with the Athletics before last season and converted 35-of-37 save opportunities. But he missed much of September with biceps tendinitis, and struggled with further shoulder problems throughout Spring Training. He will begin the season on the disabled list. Lefty Franklin Morales is the first option at closer, although manager Jim Tracy said he will use right-handers for certain matchups.
“I’ll start throwing, no set timetable, but I’m hoping by next week,” he said. “And we think because of the strengthening, it’ll move more quickly once I start.
“I get impatient and want to throw, but I have to trust them [the Rockies’ training and medical personnel]. The got me back healthy last year, and will again this year.”
Rockies veteran non-roster right-hander Tim Redding said he’s been congratulating left-hander Greg Smith for the last several days.
Of course, no one has told Smith he has made the Opening Day roster in the last bullpen spot. But Redding, a competitor for that spot, learned in a meeting with manager Jim Tracy on Wednesday afternoon that the Rockies are assigning him to Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Redding can leave only if another team invites him to be on its Major League roster on April 3.
“I’ve got to get my stuff sharper,” he said. “I had 12 innings in camp this year, not a lot of time in the box. The only way a pitcher gets better is the more hitters he sees, the more he knows what his pitches are doing and what he can do with them.
“I’m stuck in the middle of everything. I don’t have the feel for anything. I don’t have the location like I should. Bullpens are different from games.”
Redding said the Rockies have not established whether he will be a starter or a reliever. Redding has been a starter much of his career, but there wasn’t a role for him with the Rockies because all five rotation members are healthy and productive.
Redding said the Rockies told him “go get guys out, show that I can get guys out like they know I can.”
Of Smith, Redding said, “If the player who won the job is who I think he is, I am ecstatic for him. He’s earned it.
“I’ve goofed around with him the last two days and told him, ‘Congratulations,’ and he doesn’t know why,” said Redding, who said the Rockies asked him to continue to exhibit a professional example for younger pitchers when he joins the Sky Sox. “But I’ve seen the writing on the wall from about two weeks ago.
“I’m just continually trying to go out there, feel my stuff and get guys out. That’s what they want me to do down there. Regardless what role I’m in, how many innings I get, what the position is, I’ll get a call when the chance comes up.”
Redding said he will go with the club for exhibition games in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday and Saturday.
Rockies utility man Jonathan Herrera and first baseman Micahel Paulk were named co-winners of the annual Abby Greer Award, which goes each spring to the player from the player development system who is the most valuable player of Spring Training.
Herrera entered Tuesday hitting .383 with a .474 on-base percentage, five doubles and eight RBIs, while playing shortstop, second base, third base and the outfield corners. Paulk hit .295 with three triples and three doubles, and drove in 10 runs.
The award is named after a young Rockies fan who lost her life in an accident following a game at Coors Field on Aug. 26, 2002.
Here’s the inscrption on the award:
This annual award, presented at the conclusion of spring training, is dedicated to the memory of a young Rockies fan, Abby Greer. The recipient of this award best represents Abby’s love of the game, her pursuit of perfection, and her desire to be the best she could be, whether it was climbing a tree or playing sports.